ATLANTIC CITY

The man sat in an office surrounded by numerous computer interfaces and monitor view-screens, to one side of which was a tall cabinet-like machine covered with numerous controls. He was himself in heavy shadow, but this only obscured the details of his facial features. He was obviously a lean, middle-aged individual, rather short of stature and dressed in a tailored business suit. His hair was thin and prematurely grey, and his hands trembled somewhat as if with barely-concealed and repressed anger.

“The plan is underway,” he spoke into a microphone upon his large metal desk. “The casino and hotel are now fully staffed with the new Housekeepers.”

His voice was high-pitched but none the less evidenced a definite tone of command. In it was a note of madness, an insanity as of that born of suffering and tribulation that would have broken all but the most stalwart of minds.

“All is now prepared,” he continued. “Go forth and do my work, my faithful creations. I have designed you well and now is the time to do my work -- to begin the cleansing.”

The man turned to examine the view seen on the various monitors. They showed several shots of the casino floor, with the numerous gamblers at slot machines and game tables under the multicoloured lighting scheme. Others showed the hotel lobby, corridors, restaurants, saloons, and various shops, whilst still others gave sight of the exterior, looking to-wards the boardwalk and the adjoining beach, with its many tourist visitors enjoying the sunshine.

When the man turned back to-wards his desk his visage entered the light from the lamp. This illumination revealed a nightmare, for the entire right side of his face was made up of only scar tissue. It was the countenance of one who had been at one time exposed to flames of intense heat, flames that had burnt away one of his eyes and had caused his very flesh to bubble and crack until only a thinly-stretched dryness remained.

“It is prepared,” he repeated, his voice rising into a near shriek of insane announcement. “It is now underway and I will succeed. I will succeed in having my revenge upon all of mankind. I will have vengeance for what they have done to me; the persecution, the hatred, the attacks, the burning! With what I have created I will kill them all! I will cleanse this world! I will have my revenge, and I will now begin to massacre the entire human race!! …

My name is RUMANOS -- DOCTOR DANIEL RUMANOS, Extraterrestrial Espionage Agent and Intergalactic Man of Mystery. Even though I have the physical appearance of an human being, I am in fact several thousands of years old and do carry within my blood the vastly superior genes of the legendary Watchers of the Daemon-Star ALGOL -- the most intellectually-advanced race in all of the known galaxies, whose technology is so sophisticated it often appears to be “magic” and “miraculous” to lesser beings.

Whilst most Algolites live in elitist seclusion from the rest of the Universe, merely observing the goings-on of the myriad races of the vast reaches around them, I am an Operative for a secret organisation known as the KOSMIKOS or Cosmic Intervention Department, tasked with maintaining peace and order throughout the farthest reaches of Space and Time. You know, “plausible deniability”, and all of that sort of thing. We defend the weak, the unfortunate, and the innocent from those who would harm or exploit them.

Currently assigned to Earth, I protect its people (both upon their planet and across the eternal void) from the hideous manipulations of the arch-villain known as Master Don Wingus and his occult terrorist organisation, Spectral Paranormal; as well as alien invasions, mad scientists, and indeed all manner of menace. I am the living icon of Algol in this world. I am a Knight of the Eternal Spires. I am the sword of justice from the planet Daemonia. I am the stellar swashbuckler.

I am -- THE DAEMON-STAR!!! …

I pushed the wooden crate into the café-like inter-dimensional control room of my DiTraS (pronounced “DYE-tress” and standing for Dimensional Transport Sphere, this is the Time/Space vehicle in which I travel the Universe on missions for the Kosmikos)  and stood looking down at the figures I had inscribed on the side of it some time before.

“‘Kit-10 mII’,” read my companion, a beautiful young girl, petite and perfect, with luxurious chestnut hair, enchanting violet-coloured eyes, and luscious pink lips. She was wearing a short-skirted, tight dress of electric blue that only served to highlight the soft curves of her early-pubescent figure.

“Indeed, Millie,” I responded, “and I think you will like what is inside.”

Millie Drake is a girl of my own race, the Watchers of Algol. She spent the earliest part of her life on Planet Earth, and has only quite recently been discovering the wondrous abilities she wields as a member of our incredibly superior people.

I took the transonic turnscrew, an highly-advanced technological device resembling a writing pen, from my pocket and proceeded to use it to remove the nails that held the crate together. I was dressed in my usual finery, including a frilled poet-shirt and purple velvet suit, along with military style boots. My outback hat hung atop a near by coat-stand.

I piled the wooden panels of the old crate to one side and then removed the plastic wrapping from its contents. What was revealed was a kind of robot about the size and in the general shape of… a cat.

“Oh, I get it now!” giggled Millie. “Kit-10! Kitten!”

“Yes, well,” I answered, “you might not want to point that out to her.”

“‘Her’?” enquired the lass.

“Indeed. Kit-10 here is a personal computer with a very advanced and logical mind. That she happens to resemble and has many of the attributes of a feline is sometimes a bit of an annoyance to her.”

“So, you’ve had her for a long time?”

“I most certainly have,” said I, whilst utilising the transonic to perform some quick adjustments to the robotic cat. “Kit-10 here is an old and dear friend, and we have had many adventures together.”

“But what happened to her, Daniel?” queried Millie. “Why did you have her put away in storage?”

“Well, you see, Kit-10 got rather damaged some years ago whilst helping to save the Cosmos from the threat of the unmentionably-perverse Spectral Paranormal agent known to eternal infamy as Tim Chizmar. Forsooth, he had a certain super-powered pet of his own, an actual cat that he termed ‘Spooky Ninja Kitty’. It was an hideous creature that had been possessed with the mentalist essences of the Maskim of Mercury. Exposure to their baleful and decidedly-eldritch powers scrambled Kit-10’s circuitry before she managed to blast the horrid little beast into oblivion. I have been working off-and-on ever since to rebuild my old friend here, but have not had a chance to reactivate her -- until now!”

I reached down and flicked an hidden switch on the mechanical cat’s side. Her head immediately rose and a light shone from behind her glass eyes.

“Kit-10?” I said expectantly.

“But of course, s--,” came a pleasantly-feminine mechanical voice from the metallic feline. “Who else would I be?”

“Did you hear that ‘s--’ sound she made?” I said as an aside to Millie. “She has that usual catlike pride and almost-but-not-quite calling me ’sir’ is the closest she comes to treating anyone respectfully.”

“This is great!” laughed Millie. “I love her!”

“Kit-10,” I introduced, “meet Millie Drake. I hope you two will be great friends, hmmm?”

“Pleased to meet you,” said Kit-10 formally. “This unit is a personal computer.”

There was a signal sound from the control console, and I walked over to check the readings.

“Ah, it appears we are almost at our destination,” I announced.

“Atlantic City?” questioned Millie. “Like you promised?”

“Of course, Mills, my love,” I assured her. “We should have a nice holiday there.”

“Yes!” cheered the girl. “Oh, and can we take Kit-10 with us?”

“Quite so, In fact, I think it will be the perfect opportunity to take her out on a little test run. Does that sound all right to you, Kit-10?”

“It is acceptable, s--,” replied the robotic kitten.

“Awww,” exclaimed Millie, bending over to pet the mechanical feline, “she really is a sweet little pussy-cat!”

“This unit is not a cat,” offered Kit-10.

Despite her protests, the metal feline offered absolutely no resistance to Millie Drake’s rubbing of her robotic ears, eventually even letting out a sound of electronic contentment that could easily have been mistaken for purring. …

A group of tourists walked down the corridor to-wards the casino floor. They were mostly elderly folks, there on a chartered bus trip from Philadelphia. They now looked forward to a day of gambling and sightseeing at the famous East Coast resort town of Atlantic City.

Nevertheless, this was not to be, for just as the group rounded a corner and began to proceed to the area where they could turn in their travel vouchers for slot tokens, they faced a terror. It was a large, mechanical thing shaped somewhat like an huge dustbin on tractors. It rolled to-wards them, more than twice the height of a man and nearly as wide as the corridor itself.

“We are the Housekeepers,” it announced in a pre-recorded computerised voice. “You will now be cleansed.”

Few of the tourists even had time to utter screams of fear before it happened. A stream of some thick, viscid white substance suddenly shot forth from the centre of the robotic horror and enveloped them all, quickly dissolving their very bodies away to nothing! …

The DiTraS materialised in the lobby of Caesar’s, so its outward appearance as a “Roman column” for once worked as an appropriate camouflage. Indeed, since the ship’s anole circuitry (the feature that would usually allow it to change appearance in order to blend into its surroundings) had gotten broken at a similarly-themed casino resort in Las Vegas some years before, this was quite ironic.

Millie, Kit-10, and I went out upon the boardwalk first thing. It was a sunny day in late springtime, with many families and lovely little children enjoying the wide beach for which the resort town of Atlantic City, New Jersey is so famous.

No one seemed to particularly notice Kit-10. Perhaps that is because of the human tendency to not see what they do not expect, or maybe there are just stranger sites on the AC Boardwalk than a robotic cat.

We stopped into several of the shops along the way -- you know, the kind of places that sell items like t-shirts with “I went to Atlantic City and got this shirt” printed on them and such -- Millie Drake’s status as one of the Watchers of Algol in no way curtailing her natural young girl propensity to enjoy shopping for its own sake.

Continuing along, we saw the sign at the beachfront carnival advertising helicopter rides. We briefly considered this, but soon realised that speeding along the skies was in truth no particular novelty to us!

It was midday, and so we went to a nicely-intimate lunch buffet establishment along the way. Millie and I enjoyed a meal of cold-cut sandwiches, pasta salad, and soup whilst Kit-10 rested quietly at our feet.

“It really is nice here, Daniel,” beamed the girl. “Thanks so much for bringing me.”

“My pleasure, Mills,” I assured her. “I have always enjoyed Atlantic City as an holiday spot. Its heyday was really back in the 1990s, though. I remember there were numerous places here all owned by some chap named ‘Trump’.”

“I wonder whatever happened to him,” giggled the girl.

“Who knows?” I pondered. “Then there was that time that the Slozenirians attempted to invade the Miss America Pageant -- part of their continued attempts to use young human females as breeding stock.”

“I’m sure you were there to save the day, right?” teased Millie.

“Naturally, my dear,” I smirked. “Naturally. I say, love, when we finish our lunch we can stop by one of the candy shops, hmmm? I shall get you some salt water taffy for dessert.”

“Mmmmmm!” agreed the lovely lass.

We did just that, afterwards continuing our stroll down the boardwalk until we came to a building I had not seen before. I was made to resemble an enormous tropical hut. Millie read aloud the sign proclaiming the name of it:

“‘Paradise Hotel and Casino’.”

“Indeed, and quite new,” I replied. “Care to go in and have a look around?”

“Of course,” agreed the girl.

Inside, it looked like the typical Atlantic City resort establishment, its theme being a Caribbean-style getaway, with numerous imitation palm trees and a plethora of multi-hued flowers and mechanical parrots.

“I say, Kit-10,” I joked, “try not to attack any of these ‘birds’, hmmm?”

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” rejoined our robot friend.

We had by now explored a portion of the casino and were back in the corridors leading to the inner hotel area. I was about to suggest going back for a piña colada when we suddenly heard a sound like unto a gigantic motor quickly approaching us.

“Daniel, what’s that?” exclaimed Millie.

“By the Triple Star!” I exclaimed. “Look!”

Moving to-wards us then down the corridor was an huge mechanical thing, somewhat resembling a kind of monstrously-oversized dustbin on tractors. As we looked on in wonder it quickly rolled to-wards us until it was only a few metres distant.

“We are the Housekeepers,” it said. “You will now be cleansed.”

I quickly grabbed the transonic turnscrew from the pocket of my jacket and aimed it at the horror. As soon as I activated my device, the thing reversed its course and sped down the corridor away from us. Before it went, a small amount of a white substance dribbled from its midsection onto the floor.

“What was that thing, Daniel?” enquired Millie.

“I am not certain, love,” I told her, “but it did not seem friendly. Fortunately, I managed to switch its polarisation before it could do us any harm.”

I went over to the substance that had leaked upon the floor, and utilised the transonic to perform a quick analysis of it.

“By the Eternal Spires!” I swore. “This is like some kind of super-industrial strength bleach or cleaning fluid! It has been modified and enhanced to dissolve living organic matter! It is absolutely deadly!”

It was just then as I turned back to-wards Millie Drake and Kit-10, that a wall came down between us, closing the corridor and cutting us off from each other’s view.

“Millie! Kit-10!” I shouted. “Can you hear me?”

“I can just barely hear you, Daniel!” I heard the girl’s voice faintly through the barrier. “What happened?”

“It must be some kind of security wall,” I told her. “If these ‘Housekeeper’ robots work for the hotel, it must be designed that the safety barriers will come down if there is any kind of attack upon them. Wait just a minute, and I should be able to get it out of our way, and then…”

However, before I could take such action, I heard the sound of the huge robot’s tractors returning down the corridor. It had recovered from my tampering and was coming back. I realised that I could not be assured of again sabotaging it before it could spray me with the potentially-deadly bleach substance. What was most important was to lure the horrid thing away from my friends. Just as it came into view, I turned and ran down an adjoining corridor. I looked to my rear and beheld that the bizarre robotic terror was indeed in pursuit of me. …

‘Daniel!” shouted Millie Drake on the other side of the barrier. “What happened, Daniel? Where did you go?’

There was no sound in reply.

“Kit-10,” said Millie, turning to the mechanical feline. “Do you have any idea what could have happened to him?”

“Insufficient data,” returned the robotic cat. “Recommend moving away from the barrier.”

“That’s a good idea,” agreed the girl. “He might try to knock it down with some setting of the transonic turnscrew or something. Kit-10, do you know if there’s any way we can get around this wall, or… ?”

Then, before the lass could finish her thought, another of the huge mechanical “Housekeepers” sped down the corridor to-wards them.

“I think we should run, Kit-10,” suggested Millie. “Can you do that?”

“Affirmative,” answered the robotic kitten.

Millie Drake and Kit-10 then hurried down another turn in the corridor away from the gigantic Housekeeper. …

Through several twists and turns, I had managed to evade the Housekeeper that had been pursuing me. Nevertheless, I was now lost in the depths of the big hotel. I took the transonic turnscrew out again and studied its readouts.

“That is strange,” I said to myself. “There is an energy transmission emanating from one of the rooms. Ah! If I can use the transonic to trace it, perhaps I can find out exactly what or whom is controlling these deadly ‘Housekeeper’ things.”

I proceeded to locate the service stairway at the side of the building, and used this to ascend to the very top floor, from which the transonic said the transmission was coming.

What I found on that level was a long hallway at the end of which was a single door. I opened the door and found myself in an office in which were numerous computer interfaces and monitor view-screens. To one side was a tall cabinet-like machine with a series of controls on its front.

At the centre of the room was a desk with a padded office chair behind it. The chair was turned away from me when I entered, but began to swivel around. It occupant was a thin, grey-haired man in a business suit -- but it was his face that most captured my interest. It was a countenance of absolute horror, the right half of it made up entirely of scar tissue. The man glared at me from his one remaining eye.

“So, you have found me,” he said, his voice rather high-pitched but with a definite tone of authority. “You must be of higher intelligence than most.”

“Thank you for the compliment,” I responded. “I am Dr. Daniel Rumanos, and who, if I may ask, am I addressing?”

“I am SL Stanton,” he said with a flourish of pride.

“Of course!” I realised. “Stanley Lawrence Stanton, the great architect! So, the Paradise Hotel and Casino was your rumoured ultimate project; the one that was supposedly cancelled when you became embroiled in that sex scandal. An underage boy, was it? You were believed to have perished in a fire at your New York City townhouse soon afterwards -- a fire that was rumoured to have been set by a group of ‘anti-paedophile’ vigilantes!”

“Yes, but I survived,” snarled Stanton. “I survived the attack of those who hated me for my pure boy-love! I survived, and secretly continued working on this project -- this that I will now use to have my revenge upon the society that so wrongfully condemned me!”

“So you created those robot ‘Housekeepers’ as well?” I pondered. “Amazing! You are a true scientist, as they are quite remarkable things. Nevertheless, I cannot allow you to continue these actions. You cannot condemn and murder innocent people in retaliation for the pain you suffered from others.”

I took the transonic turnscrew from my pocket and started to point it to-wards the large electronic cabinet, which was obviously the source of the transmission powering the killer robots.

“No!” bellowed SL Stanton. “No! You will not destroy my creation!”

Stanton then leaped from his chair and cleared the desk. Before I could react, he was upon me and the transonic flew from my hand into the corner. We struggled, and soon his hands were grasping my throat. He was incredibly strong -- the strength of madness.

My sight began to grow dim as his grip shut off the blood to my brain. …

Millie and Kit-10 continued to run from the pursuing Housekeeper. Then things got worse. For they suddenly perceived that another of the monstrosities was fast approaching down the corridor to-wards them!

Millie Drake halted in terror, with Kit-10 skidding to a stop just beside her. The monstrous, deadly Housekeepers were now barrelling down upon them from both directions.

“What can we do, Kit-10?” pleaded the frightened girl. “What can we do?! We… We’re trapped!!”

Do you recognise the horror, the obscene and undeniable terror of this situation, my dear readers? Millie Drake and Kit-10 were trapped between two of the deadly mechanical Housekeepers, which were now rolling directly to-wards them!

It was then that Kit-10 went into action. The mechanical cat quickly faced one of the approaching robotic horrors and hit it with beam of sharply-focused light from her nose. It hit the Housekeeper squarely and caused it to shudder and stop in its tracks. There was then a small explosion in the thing’s circuitry, after which it entirely ceased to function.

Kit-10 then quickly turned and did the same to the other Housekeeper, hitting and completely disabling it with her built-in laser.

“Good work, Kit-10!” exclaimed Mille Drake with delight. “I didn’t know you can do that!”

“This unit is equipped with basic defence capabilities,” the metal feline assured the beautiful girl.

“Now, if we could only find Daniel,” said Millie.

“That may be possible,” answered Kit-10.

“You mean you do have a way to trace him?”

“Affirmative.”

“Then lead on, Kit-10,” approved the girl.

With this, Kit-10 began to glide down the hotel corridor, with young Millie Drake close behind. …

I jabbed my knee into SL Stanton’s stomach, forcing him to loosen his hold on my throat. Before he could recover, I used my fist to deliver a blow to his chin, sending him careening across the room. He crashed loudly into the cabinet-like control machine, causing the front of it to cave in and exposing a good deal of its circuitry and wiring.

After that, it was all over for Stanton within a matter of seconds. The exposed wires sent a powerful jolt of electric voltage through his body, and he let out one final shriek of pain and outrage before crumpling to the floor.

The damage that had been done to the control machine had its effect as well. The cabinet sparked and flashed before finally shutting down completely. I knew immediately that now, without the transmission they had been receiving, the horrid mechanical Housekeepers would cease to function.

I walked over and glanced down at the now-lifeless body of SL Stanton. All that remained of him was a blackened corpse, charred beyond any recognition by the electrical voltage.

“A shock ending, indeed,” said I, whilst retrieving my transonic turnscrew and slipping it safely back into my jacket pocket.

It was then that Kit-10 glided through the office door, with Millie Drake close behind. They had arrived via the hidden electric lift just outside the room. The girl rushed into my arms.

“Oh, Daniel!” exclaimed the girl. “I’m so glad you’re all right!”

“Same here, love,” I said. “I could never stand to lose you.”

“Daniel, what is that?” said Millie, indicating the charred remains of SL Stanton beside the now burnt-out control machine.

“That was a mad scientist, my dear,” I informed her. “A very mad scientist. He was responsible for what was happening here, but all should be well now. Without his control from that computerised cabinet, there is no more threat to anyone. We can go around and dismantle what is left of his technology before we leave, hmmm?”

“I’m just glad it’s over!” proclaimed the lovely lass.

“Did you have any more problems from those Housekeeper things?” I queried. “Before they were shut down, I mean?”

“Two of them tried to attack us, but Kit-10 destroyed them!”

“Yes, I trusted she would be able to protect you,” I assured the girl.

“Daniel, it was so cool!” cheered Millie. “She just blasted them with a beam of light from her nose!”

“Ah, so there are no problems with your nose-laser, Kit-10?” I enquired.

“Negative,” replied the metallic feline. “All systems working at efficient levels.”

“She also used her senses to trace you here,” Millie informed me.

“Yes, the feline race does indeed possess remarkable tracking skills, hmmm?” I winked.

“This unit is not a cat, s--,” replied the little robot.

“Well, thanks for everything anyway, Kit-10,” smiled Millie. “You saved us from those things. You found Daniel. You are so nice!”

“No problem, m--,” replied the feline-like machine.

“Daniel,” whispered the girl to me, “that ‘m--’ sound she made -- is that…”

“Yes, I do believe it is short for ‘ma’am’,” I pondered.

“Really? So you mean that she…?”

“Congratulations, Mills, my dear,” I said amusedly. “Kit-10 respects you!”

***** DANIEL RUMANOS AND MILLIE DRAKE SHALL RETURN IN “MARK OF THE NEMESISTER”